Sunday, 20 April 2014

King's Lynn parkrun

The background of how I ended up in Norfolk for a parkrun is quite simple. I needed a 'k' that I hadn't already visited for my #7weeksofparkrun challenge and as I had already run at the closest one - Kingston, I went for the next closest 'k' which happened to be King's Lynn parkrun.

king's lynn

With King's Lynn being approximately 107 miles from home, I decided that it would give us a reason to have a mini Easter break. So on the Thursday we headed north along the M11 towards Norfolk. We had booked a room in The Old Rectory Bed and Breakfast (approx 200 metres from the park gate, and only 700 metres away from the parkrun start line), which we found to be very nice indeed.

the old rectory

After three years and 142 parkruns, the overnight stay gave me the opportunity to do something I had never been in a position to do before... Travel to a parkrun ON FOOT! I could get out of bed at 8.30am on a Saturday and still arrive with time to spare. Of course, I woke up at 5.50am and eventually gave up trying to get back to sleep.

the walks

So at 8.15am, I left The Old Rectory and jogged a longer than necessary route as part of my warm-up to 'The Walks', which, at 17 hectares, is the largest park in the town. I was welcomed by some regulars as I entered the park. The Heritage Lottery Fund donated £4.3 million towards the restoration of the park (during 2007-08, I believe) and I have to say that it is a really lovely little green space.

the meeting point / cafe / bicycle parking

If you were driving to this venue, you can park on the streets to the south and east of the park for free. Alternatively there are some pay and display spaces or a multi-storey car park in the centre of the town. There has been an attempt to provide some cycling infrastructure in the town and the park is part of this (national cycle route 1 uses St. John's Walk) so safe(r) cycling is a realistic option for the locals. Cyclists can lock up their bikes at the bicycle racks at the cafe/meeting point, but when the racks are full there is a fence that runs around the adjacent playground that can be used.

pre-run briefing

The main meeting point is the cafe, which opens early for the benefit of the parkrun. It also has toilets. However, the queue does build up here. There is another toilet block on the opposite side of the park that can be used as an alternative.

walking across to the start line

After the pre-run announcements at the cafe, the runners all walk over to the start line, which is on the small diagonal path on the east side of the park (the start and finish areas are slightly different to the official course map at present). From here it is a simple three-and-bit lap anti-clockwise course where runners have the opportunity to see all of the park's features.


From the start, the runners head towards the wooden statues of parents carrying children on their backs and then turn left onto St. John's Walk, which runs adjacent to the railway line (King's Lynn station is right next to the park btw). The runners then pass the parkour area, the playgrounds, the cafe and then swing a left to cut through the centre of the park via Red Mount Walk.

the red mount chapel

On their left, runners may catch a glimpse of the River Gaywood before passing The Red Mount Chapel, which was built between 1483-85 and is classified as an ancient monument. English Heritage have listed it as a grade 1 building. The path here meanders and then has a long curve around to the right and at the end the runners turn right and head off for an out-and-back section along The Broad Walk.

guannock gate

Once runners complete the out and back they continue along The Broad Walk by passing through The Guannock Gate (13th century) which once formed part of the town's defences but is now purely ornamental. It is Grade 2 listed by English Heritage.

river gaywood meandering around the bandstand and vancouver garden

Once through the arch, the next feature is the bandstand and the Vancouver Garden. This is dedicated to the city of Vancouver which takes its name from Captain George Vancouver who was born in King's Lynn in 1757. All that remains is for the runners to turn left and rejoin the diagonal path where the run started, but before completing the lap there are the five carved designs on the right, each with a drumstick carved into the top - this is in tribute to Roger Taylor, drummer with the band Queen, who was born in King's Lynn.

they have drumsticks at the top

Once three laps have been completed, there is just a little further to run. The finish is just off the main path near the children's playground. Barcode scanning takes place just outside the cafe, which is then a very convenient place for runners and volunteers to enjoy a spot of post-run socialising.

coming up to the end of lap 1 (i think) (i'm on the left in the 100 club tee) [photo: from official set]

The run takes place on tarmac and is completely flat so it's definitely a good course if you want to try for a fast time. It's a very nice run and is squeezed into quite a compact, but lovely park. The run usually attracts over 150 runners and the week I ran there were 217 of us! This was a new record number for them, breaking the previous record by 51 runners!

a welcome sight after 5k of hard running

If you run here, you'll find that there is plenty of interaction with other runners during the out-and-back section and as the laps progress, a fair amount of runners will either lap someone or be lapped themselves depending what end of the field they are at. There are friendly volunteers in all the right places and lap times are called out as you pass the start line at the end of each lap - good for keeping track of your pacing - mine were completely even (spot on 6, 12, and 18 minutes), which was nice.

river gaywood

Finally, this was week 4 of the #7weeksofparkrun challenge. With this venue being in Norfolk, I made this my fourth county and it was also my fourth sub-20 (18:40) of the challenge. So I am on target with all of the elements of the challenge.

Saturday, 12 April 2014

Reigate Priory parkrun

On 22 March 2014 Reigate Priory parkrun held their inaugural event. Sadly I wasn't there because I was celebrating Riddlesdown parkrun's 150th event. However, this meant that I could save Reigate Priory and use it as part of my #7weeksofparkrun challenge.


Reigate Priory is a grade 1 listed building which was originally founded in the early 13th century and converted to a mansion in tudor times. The building is home to Reigate Priory Museum and Reigate Priory School. However the museum is currently closed for refurbishments.

reigate priory

Of course, I was here for the 65 acres of open parkland that surrounds the building. The parkland contains sports fields, a woodland area, a pond, formal gardens, skate park, tennis courts, croquet (crockwet) lawn, a children's playground, and a pet cemetery. You'll also find the Armada Beacon in the park, which was erected to celebrate the 400th anniversary of the Armada.

a bit of history

For parkrunners arriving by vehicle, there are a few options - the official car park for the park (£1.20 for up to an hour, £1.90 for up to 2 hours) is just off Bell Street, there's also a large Morrisons car park that is adjacent to the park, this has lots of signs up notifying drivers that there's a two hour limit and that the car park is only for customers. Reigate and Banstead Council advise that anyone planning to visit the park for over three hours use Bancroft Road multi-storey car park.

run briefing

For those travelling by train, Reigate station is the place to head for and it's less than a kilometre away from the venue, so very easily walkable or warm-up joggable. Lastly, the cyclists - I haven't seen this many cycle racks for a long time. There are about 15 bicycle racks near the cafe / start/finish area, just adjacent to the playground. There are an additional 19 bicycle racks in the Bell Road car park and apparently some more in the Morrisons car park.

the cafe

The meeting point for the run is just outside the circular, ultra-modern (and very shiny) park cafe, which is also used as the post-run social venue. If you can find which segment of the design is the door, you'll be able to use the toilets inside, which are well presented, clean and painted in a shocking pink. The run takes place almost exclusively on grass and dirt trails, which can be quite uneven underfoot at times - with this in mind, I wore my trail shoes. In addition there is a short section on a man-made path, but if you were wearing spikes you could stay on the grass to the side. The southern half of the park is woodland and contains some fun roller-coaster-style undulations to play on.

the course is mostly run on grass

The run itself starts right next to the playground and takes place over a two lap course with a little bit extra to reach the start and finish areas (official course page). From the start, runners head north with the playground on their right, before crossing a man-made path and following the line of trees past the tennis courts and skate park.

the short section of path next to the pond

At the very end of the trees, the course does an almost-180-degree turn and the runners start to head south towards Priory Pond via a short up-and-over through a small cluster of trees. At the pond, the runners join the man-made path and follow it in a clockwise direction as it meanders around approximately a third of the pond before entering the wooded area, swinging left and up a short, steep incline.

the forest trail

Now with a dirt trail path underfoot, the runners head east along the roller-coaster path through the trees. The up sections take you higher than the downs give back and at the end of the trail the runners have reached the highest part of the course. Here, the course does another almost-180-degree turn (watch out for the tree roots!) and with grass underfoot once again, the runners head back towards the pond, passing the Armada Beacon on the way. Just before reaching the pond, the course has a couple of right-hand turns before taking the runners along the grass adjacent to the main tree-lined avenue that leads back towards the playground.

a fast down and then back up the other side (rollercoaster)

At the end of the avenue, the runners turn left and repeat the lap. At the the end of the second lap, the runners turn right, run back past the start line, left at the end of the playground and finally past the finish line. Then they collect ye ol' finishing position token and head off to have it scanned by one of the wonderful volunteers that will most likely be sat under the tree just after the finish area. If you'd like to check the hill profile, please feel free to have a look at my gps data from the run.

priory beacon

From the very second week (the first doesn't count), this run has been very well attended, with well over 150 runners on each occasion. I ran at event number 4 and there were 182 runners. It is a very nice park which seems to be quite heavily used for different sports activities. There are also quite a lot of dog walkers and I did have a little incident on lap one where a dog got a bit too excited around me - After the run I noticed that my shin was sore, looked down and saw that I was bleeding slightly. It's no more than a scratch but I can only assume this happened during the dog incident.

the finish area and volunteer scanners under the scanning tree

I really enjoyed running this course. Yes it was hard work, but you can't beat a bit of rollercoaster style trail running first thing on a Saturday morning! As far as the #7weeksofparkrun challenge goes, this was week 3 and provided me with my first 'r', my third county, and my third sub-20 (19.41) finishing time.

Sunday, 6 April 2014

Aylesbury parkrun

Since records began, there have been 57 variations of the name Aylesbury. It was first recorded  as Æglesburghmeaning Fort of Ægle. However, no one known seems to know who Ægle is. Anyway, the only thing that really matters is that the town is now home to a free, timed, 5k run - Aylesbury parkrun. It is situated just outside the north of the town centre in a residential area which is right on the border of some scenic countryside along the banks of the River Thame - a tributary of the River Thames.

riverside walk

Upon arrival at the venue (by vehicle), you'll want to know where to park. The instructions on the course page are to NOT park in the community centre, but use the playing fields car park opposite the community centre because it is for users of the community centre and not for parkrunners. The playing fields car park is actually closer to the parkrun meeting point. For those arriving by train, Aylesbury Station is the one to aim for, and while it's not right on the doorstep, most people here for a 5k run would have no problem walking or jogging to the parkrun venue. Cyclists, well. I saw some bicycle racks in the community centre car park - maybe you can use those. If not, there is a fence adjacent to the childrens play area (I think it was a basketball court or five-a-side football pitch) near the finish that could be used.

some of the runners waiting at the meeting point

Toilets are available in the building adjacent to the car park and playing fields. The event director was just about to start setting up when I arrived, so he was kind enough to open one up for me to use (it had been a long drive). The piece of grass next to the children's play area (Meadowcroft play space) is used as the pre-run meeting point. Here, there is a smaller briefing for anyone new to parkrun (or indeed any first timers to the venue). At 9am the 400 metre walk to the start line begins. At the start line the proper run briefing is given.

part of the lollipop 'stick' section

The course is pretty simple to follow and forms the shape of a slightly mis-shapen lollipop. For anyone looking for a fast time, this certainly falls into the flat and fast category. From the start line, the course goes back towards the meeting point, but just before reaching it, the runners are directed left to continue on the riverside path. The path looks to be a mixture of concrete and tarmac sections, so road shoes are fine for this course. The path meanders through trees and every now and then the river is visible. Towards the end of the lollipop stick there is a playing field to the right and shortly after the runners reach the sweet part of the lollipop.

some decent views

The sweet part is run twice in an anti-clockwise direction. Upon reaching it for the first time, the runners simply continue along the concrete path until it reaches the main road (A413), a left turn here keeps the runners on the correct path and after crossing the river via a wooden bridge (could be slippery in the wet), the runners take a tighter left hand turn and run through an open grass area (but still on the hard path).

this is bridge number three (at the end of the sticky sweet lollipop loop)

At the end of this stretch, there's small bridge, then a left hand turn which leads onto another longer bridge to cross. After one sweet, sticky loop, the runners turn left to complete it again. If you are going to lap others or be lapped it'll be on this sticky section. If you are faster be prepared to weave around people and if you are slower be prepared for faster runners to whizz past you, possibly without warning.

another one of the lollipop stick (this time for the return journey)

The second time around, the runners turn right and head back along the lollipop stick towards the finish. At the end of the path the route goes out onto the pavement adjacent to a side road (which is on an ever-so-slight rise) before turning onto the grass area where the runner's originally met. The finish line and cheering crowds are here awaiting the runners' return.

just me, at the end of my pb run (18.28)

After the run, the community centre is used for some post-run socialising along with coffee and cake. Sadly, we couldn't hang around because we had to drive into Central London straight afterwards. Anyway, it's one of the younger parkruns (I ran at event 14) and it looks like it's shaping up to be a really nice community, which is just what you'd expect from the lovely world of parkrunners!

This venue was week 2 of my #7weeksofparkrun challenge. I also ran a new 5k personal best here.

Darent Valley 10k 2014

The Darent Valley 10k is organised by Swanley and District AC and takes place around the villages of Eynsford and Farningham, in Kent.

I entered the race a few days beforehand via the run Britain website and as I am (officially) an unattached runner I paid the full £15 registration fee. The cost for affiliated runners was £13. Each of those prices rose by £2 for on-the-day entries.

race hq at anthony roper school

As the race was fairly close to home, I had arranged to cycle down to Eynsford with my friend Terry (@rencestar) and he entered the race on-the-day. Upon arrival, we found a small set of bicycle racks and after locking our two-wheeled-steeds to it, we went into the race HQ. For the record, car parking was provided in a separate grass area adjacent to the school.

Race HQ was in Anthony Roper School. The bib collection tables were set up in the main hall and this is where the majority of the runners were hanging out and getting changed. It also doubled as the bag storage area. I changed into my So Let's Go Running singlet and pinned on my number.

time to get changed

There are some small toilets within the school and there was a long-ish queue. However, there were plenty of portaloos around the back of the school in one of the playgrounds. There was no queue at these and I had no toilet queue dramas (unlike the week before at the Paddock Wood Half-Marathon).

The race started from the school at 8.30am. Runners turned left out of one of the gates and headed north along the A225, which had become quite badly pot-holed (I think due to the wet winter we had just had) but the marshals were all very vocal in their efforts to ensure everybody passed through this section without tripping on one.

the bridge over the river... err.. darent (in farningham)

At the end of the road the course turns left to take runners through the village of Farningham before climbing a short hill out of the valley and turning onto Sparepenny Lane. Shortly after, it passes the 2k (8.01) and then 3k (11.21?) markers to head along the relatively flat country lane that eventually takes the runners back down into the valley at Eynsford.

At Eynsford, the course turns down Lullingstone Lane, passes underneath Eynsford viaduct - an impressive red-bricked sight featuring nine arches and passing 75-feet above the valley the runners are running along. The River Darent meanders to the left of the runners through the fields where highland cows are not an unusual sight.

eynsford viaduct and river darent

The runners continue along the lane which starts to undulate and then passes Lullingstone Castle. Just after passing the 5k marker (19.57), there is a water station and the smooth roads and paths give way to a stony path, this then turns into grass and then finally a downhill dirt trail. At the bottom of the trail, the runners are reunited with the smooth tarmac and following another brief section on a stony surface finally hit the longest and hardest of the course's uphill sections.

Towards the end of the uphill, the course meets the A225 and the runners soon pass the 7k (28.52) marker. It was at this point that I realised that I had quite a bit of work to do if I was to stand any chance of reaching my sub-40 minute goal finishing time. To save you the maths, I was running over 50 seconds behind the required pace.

just after 5k with lullingstone castle's gatehouse in the background [photo: mathew woolston]

Fortunately, the last 2 kilometres are almost entirely downhill (but with a few uphill undulations thrown in). So after passing the 8k marker and forgetting to check my watch, I started the push for the finish. The route brings runners back into Eynsford via the southern end of the village, past the train station and then down into the centre of the village. The finish line in the school grounds is further along the road, and there is one final, gentle incline just before the end.

Upon turning into the school entrance, there is a sharp drop which allows for a very fast finish over the last 30 metres or so, I glanced down at my stopwatch and saw that it said 39.54, so I sprinted as fast as my legs would take me, crossed the line and almost couldn't slow down in time to collect my medal from the marshals on medal duty.

the medal selfie

By the time I had stopped my stopwatch, the timing read 40.08 - I knew my finish time would be a few seconds faster but I didn't know if I had managed to break the 40 minute mark. Fortunately the results had been printed and were available for viewing in the main hall. My gun time was just over 40 minutes, but I wasn't right at the front when the race was started, so I checked for my chip time, which showed that I had came in just a few seconds under 40 minutes, in 39.57.

The course was clearly marked and the marshals were fab - I even knew some of them, so it was great to be cheered on by name as I passed (thank you!). The medal is slightly different to the standard run-of-the-mill offerings that are common at local races. Instead this one features an image of an interesting feature on the course - it changes from year to year and makes a nice change from the norm. The facilities were all fine, the only thing I didn't spot was a sign directing runners to the portaloos, but I'm pretty sure there would have been one and I just missed it.


After some water and bananas (and watching the awards ceremony), it was time to hit the road so we (the two of us plus our new So Let's Go Cycling recruit - Ben) took a lovely relaxing ride through the country lanes around Horton Kirby and South Darenth back to Dartford.

If you're interested in splits and all that (including hill profile) you can take a look at my gps data from the race. My 5k splits times worked out at 19.57 and 20.00 so that's a slight positive split - not bad considering the second half had the bigger hills (or inclines if you prefer).

17th overall

Time: 40.05 (gun)
Time: 39.57 (chip)
Position: 17th (out of 319)
Link: Official Results

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